National shopping center operator to buy into Miami's 56-acre Buena Vista development
By Paola Iuspa
An Ohio-based shopping center developer has a contract to buy 800,000 square feet of Miami's Buena Vista Yard, north of downtown.
Developers Diversified Realty, or DDR, a builder, operator and investor of retail centers nationwide, plans a shopping area similar in size to Coral Gables' Village of Merrick Park, with about 20 acres of retail and restaurant space.
"It is premature to talk about our plans," said Scott Schroder, the group's director of marketing. "It will be an open-air shopping center. We are currently talking to tenants. Some are national tenants looking to open new stores and others are trying to relocate."
DDR controls 14 shopping centers in Florida from Pensacola to Naples, he said, and the purchase will mark its entrance into Miami-Dade County.
The company, a real estate investment trust, owns and manages more than 400 retail properties in 44 states, totaling about 87 million square feet. Tenants include Wal-Mart, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Best Buy, OfficeMax and Bed Bath & Beyond, according to the company's web site.
Biscayne Development Partners, owners of the 56-acre, so-called Buena Vista Yard, plans to develop the rest of the $34.5 million parcel south of Northwest 36th Street, west of Northeast Second Avenue and the railroad, north of Northeast 29th Street and east of North Miami Avenue.
Biscayne's principals signed a contract with the shopping center company two months ago and expect to close the deal in six months, said Daniel Pfeffer, president of MidtownEquities of New York and partner in the Buena Vista group.
The New York firm and partner Michael Samuel bought the $34.5 million Buena Vista parcel and are moving forward with plans to transform it into a community with residential, commercial and green space, said Mr. Pfeffer, president of MidtownEquities.
The 18-block project is to include 3,000 loft condominium units and new roads. Company officials say construction could start in early 2004.
Jack Cayre, senior vice president of MidtownEquities, said his team is moving forward with plans to develop about 3,000 loft condominiums that will range from $185,000 to $275,000 and about 900 rental units, complemented with green areas and benches.
A sales office could open by year's end and the group plans to begin construction in early 2004, Mr. Pfeffer said.
The group is now designing the residential part of the project while holding almost weekly meetings with City of Miami planning and zoning staff to seek recommendations, Mr. Cayre said. The partners want a design that city officials and neighbors embrace to be able to move smoothly through the permitting process, he said.
The entire mixed-use project could cost about $600 million, Mr. Samuel said last year. Mr. Cayre said his company is providing the financing, which is part equity and part debt.
The idea behind Biscayne Development is to incorporate the massive chunk of land into the neighboring community. The group will build roads where there are none and reconnect existing ones.
The project will not be a gated community, Mr. Pfeffer said, as is common on the east side of Biscayne Boulevard. The developers' next step is to cut the grass and clean up the site, which is an eyesore, Mr. Pfeffer said.
About 15 acres are now being used to store shipping containers, he said.
The yard has been used for many years as an open warehouse by Seaboard Marine, an ocean transportation company operating from the Port of Miami. Seaboard will have to move the containers.
While seeking public feedback, the group met with the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, which has a strong presence in the area, and executives of Dacra, a development firm headed by Craig Robins and pioneer in the redevelopment of the nearby Design District.
Mr. Robins last year said he welcomed development plans for the site because that would ignite the renaissance of neighboring areas. For decades, the fenced-off lot created a wall between Biscayne Bay and residential communities at the west end.
Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said development of the Buena Vista parcel was pivotal for the growth of the neglected neighborhood, languishing between the upcoming Wynwood area and the Miami Design District, a block west of Biscayne Boulevard.
Mayor Diaz said he instructed his staff to work closely with the developer and its architect, Bernard Zyscovich, who last year was part of a public and private effort that came up with a redevelopment master plan for the areas along the FEC tracks. The conceptual design the New York group adopted resulted from that blueprint.
The mayor also said he wants this project and is willing to persuade the city to move fast in processing and issuing permits. Mr. Pfeffer and Mr. Cayre said the political support they received from the mayor and Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton, who represents that neighborhood, played an important role in deciding to set up camp in Miami.
Mr. Diaz, who practiced real estate law until November 2001, when he was elected mayor, said he understood developers' needs and was willing to work with developers serious about developing Miami's poor neighborhoods.
A partner of Goldman group, the leaseholder of the World Trade Center in New York, MidtownEquities has vast experience in transforming and injecting life into blighted areas in the Northeast, the partners said. Mr. Carey and Mr. Samuel are currently teaming up to finance the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton Inner Harbor, a luxury project in Baltimore.